TALENT — A Friday-morning reunion at the Jackson County Animal Shelter had enough sunshine, yawning puppies and Facetime "live" updates to prompt a modern-day version of Disney's "The Incredible Journey."
While the 1963 movie featured two dogs and a cat traveling 200 miles to find their family, the 2017 real-life version involved two Siberian huskies and a litter of pups whose family ventured 2,200 miles to claim them at a shelter on the opposite side of the country.
"They've got a long ride ahead," said the dogs' owner Ashley Cruz, as she loaded the eight dogs into her Chevy pickup.
Cruz drove here from her home in Avon, Indiana, this week to reclaim the dogs after Central Point resident Debi Kubik found them and connected with her through Facebook.
In January, Cruz left her dog, a female named Blue, with a friend in Indiana who owned a male husky named Josh. The dogs went missing, and four months later they turned up here.
"I got a call on Tuesday from the shelter in Jackson County. We have a Jackson County in Indiana, so I figured I would have to drive at least an hour to go get the dogs back," Cruz said. "I never thought in a million years I'd have to drive 35 hours!"
Kubik and neighbors found Blue and Josh Monday. The dogs were chasing Kubik's pregnant mare near a neighbor's home off Blackwell Road, and she called animal control officers to pick them up. The shelter scanned the dogs for microchips and discovered the owner lived in Indiana.
Within hours of the dogs arriving at the shelter, a man who identified himself as Mario Guzo called the shelter and tried to claim the dogs, which he said he had rescued as strays. Since arriving in Jackson County, the female had a litter of six puppies. A short time later, she apparently ran off.
"When the female took off, he (Guzo) ended up going out and buying formula and was bottle-feeding the puppies," explained Jackson County Animal Shelter Manager Barbara Talbert.
"If she hadn't microchipped her dog, she most likely would have never seen her again," Talbert said.
"He (Guzo) told us he ran an ad in Indiana on Craigslist, and that the dogs had been running as strays," Talbert said. "When he didn't get a response, he said, he brought them to Oregon. When we pushed for more information on how he acquired the dogs, he backed off pretty quickly."
The Mail Tribune tried to reach Guzo but did not receive a return phone call.
Talbert said she encourages all pet owners to microchip their animals. Microchips, she said, often make the difference in recovering a lost pet and can shorten the time a missing pet spends in a shelter.
"I think there's an opportunity to educate the public here in terms of what to do when you find a dog at large. This guy who found these dogs in Indiana said he posted an ad on Craigslist. We do scan Craigslist, but not every shelter probably does that," Talbert said.
"The obvious first steps (if you find a stray animal) is to take the animal to a vet or to a shelter to be scanned and find out who the owner is. At the very least, take them to a local shelter where they can try to help return the dog to their owner."
After driving for two long days this week with her husband, Andres, and 1-year-old daughter, Gabriela, Cruz said the unexpected $1,000 trip expense was "very much worth it" the moment Blue ran and licked her face.
Cruz said she was frustrated her dog had been taken so far away instead of being taken to a shelter in her home state.
But on Friday her frustration evaporated into laughter when her phone rang — her three kids in Indiana calling on Facetime to see the eight dogs.
"My daughter says, 'Mom, we're keeping all the dogs!' " Cruz said with a laugh.
When Blue jumped into the driver's seat of her family's truck, Cruz said, "She thinks she's driving. She's ready to go."
Cruz loaded the dogs into a Silverado that seemed just big enough to hold them, while Kubik snuggled one of two white puppies from the litter.
"This one's the howler," she noted.
Kubik said she was happy to see the family reunited with their dogs.
"If one of my dogs were missing, and they ended up in New York, I'd be on the road, too," she said.
— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at email@example.com